Whenever I actually do sit down in front of this old computer and try to concentrate on one issue or one topic or one consecutive set of events to the ones which preceded the writing I am about to try and create, too many images and too many moments come to life in my mind. I really don’t know how many people are following these mental meanderings; I know of at least 10-12 people who tell me they do. In the end, this is mostly written to cleanse my memories. Because of too many wrong turns along the way, my communication with my own children has been curtailed. Again, who’s right? Don’t really know. In a way, this may be a way for them to eventually get to know me a little more. That is, if any of them may actually get to read these blogs sometime.
This brings me back to today and now. Where to go? Spain comes to my mind; it is a country considered to be our (Cuba’s) cultural mother country and, actually in my case, both my family lines (mother’s and father’s) do come from this beautiful country. My mother’s from Asturias in the north, and my father’s from the southern region, near Seville. I truly believe that the only reason I actually exist, is that both lines ended up in Cuba, consummating their togetherness there. In Spain, in those times, this North-South marriage would have been almost impossible.
I have had the opportunity to visit Spain several times over the years, while on business trips. Most of the time spent there has been divided between the two primary cities: Madrid and Barcelona and their surrounding areas. Although there are many instances and moments from these trips that could be (and probably will eventually be) the source for one of these postcards, I think I will actually try to write about a place where I have not set foot yet, except in my mind and during my childhood years.
In order to do this, we will go back to Cienfuegos, Cuba, circa 1951-55. As in most medium and larger size cities in Cuba, there was a “Centro Gallego” in the center of town. These centers were to enhance the memories and the presence of the men from the Province of Galicia (Northwest corner of Spain, above Portugal) a fishing, sea faring people who probably made up the true majority of immigrants from Spain who have covered the world. These centers were very beautiful, ornate buildings. On the first floor they would usually have a huge hall which doubled as a ballroom during festivities, with marble floors and gilded doorways and walls. On the second floor there would be the offices and other assorted rooms.
My grandfather did not come from Galicia, he came from The Principality of Asturias. So, I really never "officially" set foot in one of these centers. We belonged to the “other” group and had our own, separate commemorative celebrations. In my hometown The Asturian Club, in those days, was yet to be built (we were a much smaller, less wealthy community) but there was –as a property and for the future building(s)- a very large tract of land on the outskirts of the city near the airport, where there was a very large gazebo like structure in the center sitting, as an overlord would, ruling its demesnes. This was the only roof in the property, so the get-togethers would rely heavily on the weather forecast for the day.
The outings were the physical and fun part, but the underlying spiritual and emotional aspect was the most important. Through my grandfather’s imagination, his memories and stories, I traveled in Asturias long before the “virtual world” of the computers were created. He empowered my own imagination as I visited the green mountain top belt of northern Spain, where I smelled the pine forests and the fresh mountain air. I walked along the small rivers which dot the mountainsides and there were moments when I could feel the cold water touch my feet. I entered, holding his hand, the Grotto of Our Lady of Covadongas, the Patron Virgin Mother of Asturias. In his stories, along with the books he would get for me, I learned about how in the 800’s, it was from Asturias that those who liberated Spain from the more than 5 centuries of Arab domination came. They never gave up and, in part thanks to those mountains, were able to hide, grow and hold their own over the centuries. Still today, as I write this, my eyes close and his voice is in my mind, telling me about the beauty of his motherland.
-“Rafelito… no te ensucies” -“Rafelito, don’t get dirty” would say my grandmother, while I and many friends would be running in the dirt, chasing each other and ending up usually in a head first slide in the grass. But, we knew she was busy with her cup of “sidra” which is Asturias regional beverage; a hard apple cider which is truly unique so her admonition was just a reaction to our running and noise, and would not go much further than the already proffered warning. The music, with the "gaiteros" (The gaita, or bagpipes, are the folkloric instruments in Asturias) would be blaring everywhere, while the smells from the cooking pots would permeate the air; the shrimp and flounder, the pork and, best of all, the Asturian paella. We would continue to run around as we all kept our eyes open since we were very much aware that, as children, we were not allowed to drink the sidra which, although mild, was still an alcoholic drink. We also knew that most adults would start a glass and then get sidetracked with all that was going on, leaving the glass half full and, guess what? It was time to sneak into the gazebo and steal a sip or two before running out again. This beverage is another happy memory. I have been able to buy the same brand here in the States (well, Miami) and enjoyed sipping it. But it has never tasted, as an adult, as good as I remember those stolen sips would taste as a child.
I look forward to one day being able to physically walk the mountains in Asturias, to visit the countryside my granddad so loved. The rivers and small streams which help the green grass and the forest trees grow; to visit the city of Avilés, which over the years swallowed his little town of birth. Alberto Cortés, an Argentinean singer, sings a song about a grandfather who came from Galicia. How, much later in life, the grandson was able to visit that countryside which his grandfather talked about during his childhood, and how he would see his spirit in every tree, every stream and in every village he visited.
I hope I will be able to do the same; for I would like to remember my grandfather to his beloved Asturias since those living memories will have, sadly, ended with me. Most of all, I hope to be able to visit the Grotto of Our Lady of Covadongas and, there, light a small candle in memory of one of her sons who, even though he was never able to return, never forgot her.
A mixed postcard from Asturias, a place I have yet to visit.